So signups for the variety show didn't happen Friday night, or maybe they happened somewhere else, or maybe they did happen inside a pocket universe visible only to a select few members. No idea. But Sunday at 2:00 they were to have rehearsal. So we went up to Draconis and I said, while we don't have an act organized we have puppets and could do whatever puppeteering they needed done. And I was thinking of songs we knew well enough that I would feel comfortable doing Puppet Karaoke with, such as Sparks's ``Let The Monkey Drive'', in case the audiovisual people could get a playable copy in time.
He was happy to bring us in, along with everyone else who brought an act or possible act to the show. Before I quite knew what I was doing --- and I still don't know what I was doing --- we were behind the stage, trying out a couple puppets behind the stage curtain. AnthrOhio/Morphicon hasn't had a puppeteering track in years. But when it did, the puppeteers were prominent enough that a stage and proscenium was made in the PVC tubes for setting up the stage backdrop. And the convention, having the PVC tubes for a workable backdrop, wasn't going to replace them just because there were no puppet acts for a couple years. So here we were, part of the variety show, mostly because it was too much work to make it hard for us to be there.
Draconis's plan: we would just be there and drop in, commenting on the show as we felt like. This is in some ways an excellent plan. First we only had to do what we felt like worked. Second puppets being snarky almost always plays well on stage. Third, I have the sort of riffing humor that can work well for this, deadpanning something weird and preposterous.
So here's the ways it was not an excellent plan. Some of it was our own fault. bunny_hugger had her peacock hand puppet, great for stage work. It's just a head, so the face is large and can be easily seen moving around. But me? My only puppet is a life-sized guinea pig. From more than a few feet away it's a fluffy ball of no discernable motion. What we should have used was the sea serpent hand puppet, again just a head, but one that's big and easy to see from afar. We had lost that, though; it would turn up only a month later, in a compartment of bunny_hugger's duffel bag we would have sworn we'd investigated.
The next-best was a full-body Chinese dragon. If I kept him sideways then his mouth would move enough to read from the audience, hopefully. It would also mean I had to perform sideways. Which might be for the best. The tech guys only had one microphone to spare for bunny_hugger and me. My standing sideways would have me face the microphone; she had to turn her head or hang a little sideways.
Another technical problem: we couldn't see what was on stage. When the real puppeteers were there they had cameras set out front and a monitor in back, which makes it possible for the puppet to look at anything on-stage. Eye contact matters so much. And it lets the puppeteer know if their head or arm or showing. bunny_hugger was short enough not to fear her head popping up. My head, though? Was a few inches taller than the base of the puppet stage, but there's a good chance it would still be obscured from the audience. If my hair was still as black as it used to be even that might go unnoticed, but I've got enough grey that I might be picked up. Couldn't get any opinions about whether I was visible standing, though, so much of the rehearsal was a quest for chairs that I could kneel on, to be low enough I'd be sure not to show, but high enough not to wear out my arm.
And then there's the major problem: my character had no definition. Was this dragon smart? Dumb? Snarky? Innocent? What kind of jokes does he make? ... All right, so maybe he can just joke the way I would in person; who's going to know? But do I interact just with Draconis? Through Draconis? Do I interact with the performers before or after their bits? And how much do I interact with bunny_hugger's peacock and not worry about it all?
Still, bunny_hugger and I had some nice casual banter before, including some nice talk about the peacock's train and riffs on train wrecks and the like. And we had some nice stuff with Draconis right before stage time where he'd say the puppets had to get down and hide before the show started. This turned into some nice bits of poking up and hiding away before he could react. Sometimes I was too slow; sometimes I was fast enough. I felt good about that.
Also bunny_hugger had to duck out for a few minutes, an hour in, to attend the raffling off of copies of the Photosynthesis game she'd played Saturday. She worried somehow that this would be a problem for the rehearsal, which was deep in trying to figure out who was going where and who needed what on-stage. She didn't win a copy, but the raffling off went all weird in a complicated way that I'm sorry to have missed. (People who had entered weren't there, disqualifying them, and it took a few draws before someone was found. And then one of the absent people who'd been drawn turned up.)
And so how did the actual show go?
Um. Well. I'll call it stage fright or inexperience; I don't talk enough in-character while puppeteering. But I started out with mouth movements on the puppet that just had nothing to do with what I was saying. That smoothed out over the course of the performance, at least. The emcee noted bunny_hugger's peacock having a clearly female voice, making some gag about assuming gender identities and presenting as male and I felt myself dying.
bunny_hugger did well, with her vain peacock able to bring the conversation around to his impossibly gorgeous, but not actually existing, train several times. Good routine. Nice, easy patter. I recognized that she was trying to set me up too, since we'd had some riffs about her train and train wrecks in rehearsal. But I couldn't think what it was, and I couldn't think of somewhere to go with the lines fed me.
And I flopped. I can fault some technical points on this. The lack of video particularly; I had no idea where anyone is. And I'm bad at interrupting conversation at the best of times. Without any visual cues about what's going on, I was incredibly hopeless, and just presented a Chinese dragon hanging around in his own little zone. But the lack of character really sank me; even when I got the stage or the emcee gave me an opening, I wouldn't have anywhere particular to go. And when I did have somewhere to go, I improvised the way I write humor pieces. Which are kind of long and convoluted and weird. I needed shorter, simpler, and clearer.
But. Here's the important thing: a poor puppeteering performance is better than none at all. And having done what is surely my worst-possible, I feel more confident in future work. The biggest problems are easy fixes. Have an appropriate stage puppet. Go in with a clear idea of what character I'm playing. I've listened to 800 godzillion hours of old-time radio comedy; I can just do Mel Blanc's Happy Postman or Bert Gordon's Mad Russian or even someone anyone might have heard of the last fifty years. Lay out rules with the emcee about when I should jump in. Figure out any kind of schtick (``if you say a food word the dragon pops up and demands dinner''). Anything a puppet does five times becomes funny. It doesn't have to be good to be any good. It just has to exist.
I can imagine how to solve the can't-see-the-stage problem too. bunny_hugger and I have iPods; we could set up a tripod with one out front, and Facetime with ourselves in back. It won't be a great view, but it's surely enough to work out whether we're looking at anything at all on-stage. And what's the chance that the hotel's free public wireless would go down during the show? Such is surely un-possible.
So for all that went wrong, I feel great about the chance of doing this again. If they won't throw us out just for talking about the possibility.
And a footnote. Sometime while we were backstage in rehearsal, Boozy Badger --- that lawyer who discovered furry fandom after some Sovereign Citizen nonsense last year, and within two weeks was headlining AnthroCon --- turned out to be there. He did some question-and-answer stuff, including one with bunny_hugger's peacock. Sure, I knew of him; you can't be on Furry Twitter and not see stuff where he's talking running past you. But I didn't know him, or know that he'd be there. And so now I had the odd experience that I'd technically been on stage with this new furry celebrity, but I still had no idea what he looked like, and he had no idea I was there. Just a remote awareness that there was someone besides that peacock in the puppetry window. This all felt weird.
Trivia: The ancient Icelandic calendar set the summer misseri (six-month-long season) at 26 weeks and two days, and always began on a Thursday. The winter misseri was the rest of the year. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.
Currently Reading: The Philosophy of Mathematics: An Introductory Essay, Stephan Körner.
PS: Casino Pier, and particularly, its carousel.
Dedication plaque for the Floyd Moreland carousel. I admit not knowing who the people are or why their memory is the target of dedication.
And the dedication plaque for the Floyd Moreland carousel that actually names Moreland, and I don't know what's dedicated here that wasn't also dedicated above. Also the lettering on this 1986 plaque seems somehow decades worse than the one of the other plaque, the date of which I don't know except that it has to be from after March of 1996.
The carousel horses that bunny_hugger and I rode on our first trip to Casino Pier, and that we try to ride every time we revisit the place.